Languages undergo drastic changes with passage of time along the history, such that some of the earliest words may be obliterated from the memory and general usage of our people. However these words or their derivatives may still continue to live in the form of prefixes and suffixes or other modified words.
The word ‘Ala’ was in use in Tulu and other Dravidian languages as seen in some of the older Tulu place names, but it is not in common current usage with the traditional meaning attached to it. As an exception, some words, based on Ala with implied meaning connected to water, are still current.
Note the following Tulu words derived from the ancient word Ala:
Ale 1 =waves;
Lat/Latti =Return sea waves after flashing shore, colliding with incoming waves of varying force; ( It is a delightful sight to see spurting of foamy water),
Ale2 =Butter milk,
Alankunu = to splash and spill (as applicable to liquids),
Alanku = a kind of fresh water fish,
Alambu= rinse cloth in water.
Aalambu = moss,
Aaleppatu = a small canal or ditch for water flow in fields,
Aalenji = muddy substances settled down in water and/or moss-like tiny plants growing on surface of stagnant water,
Aalikallu = hailstone,
Aalibarsa = hailstorm,
Alli poo = water-borne flower, water lily, lotus , etc.
The word Ala seems to have been derived or borrowed from an older language that existed before Tulu. Or else, is it a Proto-Dravidian word? We have to find out the origin of the word. It is bit difficult to get to the source of ‘Ala’ as it is also associated with similar sounding words in Arabic and Uralian languages, including Indo-Eurasian?
In Tulunadu, there are many place names with ‘aal’ as suffix as well as prefix. For example, we can quote some names: As suffix in Posraal, Koosaal, Kemral, Puraal, Kadal (Sea), Kudla/Kudal, Perdala, Perla, Kerala, Panchala, Ambala, Kandla/Kandal, Khandala, Kurla and so forth.
As Prefix in Alade, Alangar, Aluve, Alipe/Alupe, Alike, Alwar, Alawaye, Almora, Alexandria (a port city of Egypt), Alquos/Alqueze (UAE), Aleutian Islands in Alaska (USA) and so on. There are many place-names in West Coast and East Coast with Suffix ‘kulam’ i.e. area of pond, lake or a water-body (q.v. our earlier Posts –186, etc. - on place-names).
‘Aal’ is an ancient word, provenance of which is not attachable to any definite language. It is plausibly derived from African heritage. It is thought to be connected to water, shore or a habitation by the side of a river.
‘Alam’ is also shortened to ‘La(m)’. Note the word ‘Lambalaki’, meaning ‘Sagaratanaye’ (= Daughter of Ocean), in Kannada devotional song on Goddess Lakshmi (qv ಅಂಬುರುಹೇಕ್ಷಣೆ ಲಂಬಾಲಕಿ, ಜಗದಂಬ ಪೊರೆಯೆ, ಸತತ ಗಂಭೀರ ಗಜಗಮನೆ = Amburuhekshane lambalaki, jagadamba poreye, satata gambira gajagamane…). She rose from the sea while it was being churned out and chose Lord Vishnu as her spouse. Compare Samudra Mathana (Churning of Sea) of Hindu Mythology to Loss of land of Lemuria or Kumaria or Gondaranya as geological event.
A curious aspect is that it is ubiquitous in lands between two Poles. With fragmented accounts, it may seem difficult to come to a conclusion about this ramification. Migrations may be the reason for such a phenomenon. We have records of migrations for the recent historical events and political upheavals around the world. Some are even fresh in our memory. There are many reasons which are instrumental for mass migrations, viz natural calamities (eg. earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes, weather changes leading storms, incessant rains, landslides, change of river courses, global warming, glaciers,draughts, etc.) and Political, Linguistic and Religious strife. Outlining migration is difficult without the knowledge of major events in global history, spanning thousands and thousands of years. In the beginning, millions and millions years ago, the earth was one continent with one ocean. Later it split into seven continents and seven oceans (q.v. Web-page: Timeline Index and our Post-275 of 17th April 2011: Geography in Puranas- Concept of Continents). The early intelligent people of some highly evolved civilizations were able to reach different regions quickly (as manifest in our legends). So it is imaginable how languages travelled with people originally from Africa along coast lines to Asia, Australia and back to Africa via India and thence to Europe via Nile and Mediterranean, Turkey to Siberian and America (q.v. Journey of Mankind). When we encounter or bounce against some words, it is evident that they or their derivatives have similar meanings in various languages. It shows an under-current of a proto language known by several linguistic/tribal groups, closeted in a region. Going downwards in timeline, we can recover or reconstruct lost pages of history by deciphering the words percolating from past to present with their original and/or evolved meanings.
Shades of Meanings
Alam means an area around or near waterbody in most of the Indian languages. Connection to water is attached to most of Indian place names in coastal belt right up to Kanya Kumari. However, in Persian, it means an area under rule of a king (Alamgir, Alamshaw). [Confusion may arise when one equates ‘ala’ with French compound word ‘a la’, which means ‘like or in the manner/fashion/style of’.]
Aal basically means water body, like river, lake or sea shore. In Kannada speaking areas too we have Alur, Alamatti, Almel, etc.
‘Alu’ has another meaning of ‘snake’. Tulu Nadu is also called as Nagara Khanda (Land of Nagas). Could we apply this meaning to have alternative explanation to ‘Aluva’ in Aluvakheda, ruled by Alupas?
Let us study ‘al’ in other languages in the World:
Al (Arabic and Tulu) = family, race, person/place of.
Al, Alb (Aryan languages) = high, hill (Albania, Alps – cognate with Latin ‘albus’ = white). Compare the word Mala, male in Dravidian languages, meaning elevated area, hill or mountains (Eg. Malpe, Malabar, Malenadu, Malad, etc.)
Al = forest
Al = Red or Gold (Turkic & Mongolian)
Ala (Bantu) = a cliff
Alas (Russian, Uralian and Norse) = PortLa = Mountain Pass
(See: Glossary of Geographical Terms and Place names by J.N. Larned).
Ale3 has also the meaning of ‘to wander’in Tulu and Kannada. ‘Lam’ in English and Scandinavian means ‘beat or thrash and to flee or escape or headlong flight’.
Some Cognate Place names
Toponym(y) is the study of place-names, their origins, meanings, use and typology. It is a branch of Onomastics, i.e. Study of names of all kinds. Settlements of people were known by the natural landscape features, such as hills, rocks, valleys, islands and harbours, from remote historical times. As man advanced to a high degree of civilization trade and commerce increased with regions within and lands without. Maritime trade and also migrations for various reasons were instrumental in coinage of new names even from prehistoric times. Places were also named after man-made features, say forts, etc. and personages.
Demonymy is a part of toponym(y), as are Ethnonymy, Hydronymy, Exonym and Endonym. Demonym is a Greek compound word, which means: Demo = Populace + nym = name. It means a name for a resident of a locality, Eg. Alemanni for several Germanic tribes settled in Switzerland. Many surnames of Tulu people are identified with their place of origin, etc.
While writing on Toponymy one has to examine the linguistic origin of place names. Etymology is breaking up the word elements or stems to find out its origin and meaning. Study of Toponymy is difficult. It deals with people, their culture, language, geographical features and climate, which condition the style of living of the settlers of the area. Cross cultures in a region, involving two or more languages contemporaneous in such and such periods, also play a vital role. Linguistic convergence is the product of many factors, such as pidginisation and creolization (i.e. mixture of different language groups with specific cultures and emerging as one group).
Let us analyze some cognate place names around water-bodies world-wide:
Algeria: This country takes its name from City of Algiers (French Alger), which in turn is derived from the Arabic word ‘al-gazair’, (= ‘the islands’). Four islands off the city’s coast became a part of the mainland in 1525. It is a short name for the older name ‘gazair bani mazhanna’, meaning ‘the islands of the tribe Bani Mazzhanna.’
Aland: It is an autonomous Province in Finland. It means a ‘Land (in the) water’ from the Germanic root ‘Ahw’ cognate with Latin Aqua.
Alasund: It is a Port City in Norway. It could be split as ‘Alas (water) + Und’ (place).
Alemanni (aka Alamanni or Alamani): They were a confederation of of Suebian Germanic tribes, inhabiting Upper Rhine River in modern Switzerland. The legacy of Alemanni survives in the name of Germany in several languages (Eg. French: Allemagne, Allemand. Portuguese: Alemanha, Alemao. Spanish: Alemania, Aleman. Welsh: Almaen. Arabic: Almanya, Language Alemaniyya. Persian: Alemaan – language Alemaani. In Gothic, Alamanns means ‘totality of mankind’ – al = all + mann = man). In spite of these foreign names, they called themselves Suebi who were constantly engaged in conflicts with Roman Empire in 3-4th C. They settled in North Switzerland and Alsace when driven from there.
Alaska (USA): It was a Russian colony until March 30, 1867 when it was purchased by the United States. When dissected, the name ‘Alaska means Alas (water-bodied) + ka (place). Since Russian occupation, it was known for the peninsula only. It is derived from ‘Aleut’, meaning the mainland or more literally, ‘the object which the action of the sea is derived’ (q.v. Wikipedia). It is also known as ‘Alyeska’, the Great Land. It has 34,000 miles tidal shore-line, has more than three million lakes, has marshlands and wetland permafrost cover to 188,320 miles.
A part of Aleutian Arc is a group of 14 large volcanic islands and 57 smaller ones. The topography is like a broken bridge from Asia to America. It was a route of first human settlers of Americas, as found out by Anthropologists. Early human sites in Alaska are supposed to have been submerged by glacial water. The Islanders are skilled hunters, fishers and basket makers. Japanese held these islands for some time during World War II.
Altai: In means ‘Golden Mountain’ in Turkic and Mongolian (Al = Red or Gold + Tai/tag = Mountain. Altai Mountains are a mountain range in East-central Asia, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan come together and where Rivers Irtysh and Ob have their head-waters. The Altai is one of the Russia’s highest-lying region and place where many cultures mix. Telengits are one of the most ancient people.
The Altai Mountains were home to Denisovan branch of hominids who were contemporaries of Neanderthals and of Homo Sapiens (modern humans), descended from Homonids who reached Asia earlier than modern humans. Knowledge about Denisovan humans is derived from DNA evidence (dated to 40,000 years ago) and artifacts, discovered in Denisovan Caves in Altai Mountains in Southern Siberia in 2008. During Bronze Age around the start of the 2nd Millenium BC, a massive migration of peoples from the region took place into Europe and Asia. It is a land of many lakes (q.v. Wiki). It is identified as a point of origin of cultural enigma (Seima-Turbino Phenomenon). It is a place of endangered animals, like snow leopard, Agrale sheep, etc.;hence a World Heritage Site.
Linguists note that there was dissolution of the Uralo-Siberian & Uralo-Yukagir language families in 6000-4000 BC. Frederik Kortlandt of Leiden University (Netherlands) concludes that “Proto-Indo-Uralic and Proto-Altaic may have been the same thing and contemporaneous with Proto-Indo-Hittite (4500-4000)* and that Proto-Finno-Ugric and nuclear Proto-Indo-European may again have been contemporary languages (3500-3000). This puts dissolution of the Uralo-Siberian language family in the 7th Millenium. It now becomes attractive to identify the latter with abrupt climate change of 8200 BP or 6200 BC when severe cold struck the northern hemisphere for more than a century. The catastrophic nature of this disastrous event agrees well with the sudden dispersal and large scale lexical replacement which are characteristic of the Uralo-Siberian languages (qv. Indo-Uralic and Altaic, www. kortlandt. nl.” *Hittites were the ancient people of Asia Minor & Syria.
Shangri La: Shang (Mountain) + La (Mountain Pass) in Tibetan language. It is a place accessible by a passage or opening between two mountains valleys.
Shambhala; Shambala: A mythical kingdom hidden in somewhere in Inner Asia – known to be Buddhist Pure Land. Though physically hidden, it is accessible by spiritual or visionary search through meditation. It is a Society where all inhabitants are enlightened
Latvia: It is derived from the name ‘Latgale’. The stem ‘Lat’ is associated with several Baltic hydronyms , places named after water bodies, and other element ‘gale’ means ‘land’ or ‘boundary land’ in Baltic language.
Lebanon: The place name is derived from Semitic root LBN, which is linked to closely related meanings in various languages, such as ‘white’ or ‘milk’. In local dialect, it is known as ‘Lubnen or Lebnan’ and ‘Lubnan’ in standard Arabic. It refers to ‘snow capped Mount Lebanon’. It is an Arabic country in East Mediterrean basin, having a long coastline. Located at the cross-roads of Mediterrean basin, it has rich ethnic and religious diversity.
Alabama: It is a State in USA on the South-eastern region. It has got long navigable inland waterways. Indigenous people of different cultures lived here many a thousand years ago before European colonisation.
Lanka: It is an Island country, famous as Golden country in ‘Ramayana’ time. When split, it means La= (in) Water + an=raised + ka=country. The term ‘Lanka’ means an island as in ‘Olalanke’ (=kuduru or river island) in Tulu/Kannada.
Alakananda: It is a river in Himalayan range in Uttarakhand State, flowing partly in Tibet. It is a source stream for the Ganga Nadi according to hydrology. It joins Bhagirathi at Devprayag after flowing about 180 km through Alakananda Valley. In Sanskrit ‘Alaka’ means curl or lock of hair.
Alakavati: In Mythology, it is the capital of Kubera (Vaisravana), half-brother of Ravana. It is old name of Tibet. It means the land of flowing or braided locks. It is named after the style of men and women of yore wearing their hairs in that way.
Lāta: It is an old name of Gujarat and is also a ruling dynasty. Lātas were spread from Gujarat to Karnataka. This land of Lāta (La=Water + Ta=Region or country). This place name is comparable to Latvia.
Lavasa: La (Water) + Vasa (Locality/Settlement. It is a locality in Pune on foothills of Sahyadri with a lake.
Let us analyze at random some Tulu Place names:
Aluve: It means an estuary.
Aluvakheda of Alupas: Kheta>Kheda means a valley or depression. Therefore, it is a valley near an estuary (aluve/aruve). It is the original place of Alupa/Alupe Kings rather than Alike. Alupe now is an rural area with deep valleys where, Alu, the river course (of River Netravathi) has been shifted in the course of history. River estuaries of Mangalore, Udyavara and Barkur were the main trading centres of Alupas under their rule. So they used to change their capital to one of these centres owing to natural calamities or exigency.
The Alupas were indigenous family, who ruled from the coastal cities in erstwhile Tulu Nadu (Now South Kanara and Udupi Districts) for more than thousand years, were probably of the Naga Race. Geographer Ptolemy mentions Aluvakheda as an independent unit in the 2nd Century AD. Halmidi stone inscription of 5th C. contains a general reference to Alu, i.e. Aluva country.
Posrāl: It is an Ethnonym. It was probably a habitation of new comers, as we find out while dissecting the word (Posara=newly arrived + Aal=people. It is a hamlet on southern part of Mundkur Village on the bank of River Shambhavi, which debauches into Arabian Sea at Mulki. Who are these new people, who assimilated with local populace? Or is it a new area, which came into being around a water-body on some natural changes?
Kemrāl: A village of red-coloured people, viz. Kemmar or Komma people as discussed elsewhere in our Posts.
Koosal: It was a land of Koosa tribal people.
Puraal (Polali)/Pulinapura): An ancient Temple dedicated to Goddess Rājarājeshwari stands on the bank of River Phalguni here. F. Kittel’s Kannada-English Dictionary gives the meaning of ‘Pura’ as a stream, a rivulet, a brook, a water channel (Poral, Ponal, and Kalpura. Poora, natural water course, and drain). In Sanskrit, ‘Poora’ means overflow or an inundation.
There is a place name Chitrapura (between Hosabettu & Baikampadi), a Sanskritised name for ‘Pori+pu’ in local tongue, about which present progeny is not aware of. This area is part of natural storm water drainage, joining Gurupura (Phalguni) River. This water course was bypassed to Arabian Sea before taking up the New Mangalore Harbour Project on hand.
Uppala: It is a coastal village in Kasaragod. When dissected as Uppu+ala, it means a salty water(marshy)area. Possibly, it would have been a place for salt pans earlier.
Volalanke: Read our Post-305; 18th October, 2012: Mulki – an emerged land.
Alevoor: Please read our Post of 2009.
Sifting through available data collected from various sources, it is inferable from our general survey that ‘āl’ with its derivatives, convincingly implies connection to water or places near water or to ‘people’ or habitation beside a water source. The usage is found in various languages of the world, including Dravidian and Sanskrit, suggesting that it could have been a very ancient word which has travelled many places along with the migrating human tribes in the history.
It is hoped that the interesting ineluctable truth in this disquisition may spur readers to comprehend ancient heritage words in a broader plane.
-Hosabettu Vishwanath, Pune